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The Iran-Britain Standoff: Reading the Signs

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

From the moment Iranian forces captured a group of 15 British sailors and Marines, the tensions among competing power centers within Iran began bubbling to the surface. One can almost imagine the heated debates raging among assorted Mullahs, military men and politicians about what to do with the 14 men and one woman taken on March 21 in the waters of the Persian Gulf. That, not coincidentally, was the day before a scheduled meeting of the United Nations Security Council, which approved new sanctions against the Islamic Republic, demanding yet again the suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment program.

There are many possible reasons why someone in Tehran decided to order the Revolutionary Guards to capture a small slice of what remains of the mighty British Navy, the same force that once dominated a stretch so vast that the sun never stopped shining upon it. There is only one explanation, however, for why the target was Britain and not the United States: The Americans would have fired back. According to Lt. Cmdr. Erik Horner, U.S. rules of engagement "Allow a little more latitude . . . a little bit more towards self-preservation." And, if Iranians had still captured American service members despite the more robust rules of engagement, we can be sure the calm-voiced calls for a prompt release we now hear from London would have been replaced by much less conciliatory threats from Washington. ...

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